HUD Annual Homelessness Assessment Report Demonstrates Impact of Pandemic Aid on Sheltered Homelessness

HUD released the 2021 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR): Part 2 on July 27. Every year, HUD releases a two-part report that provides estimates of the scale of sheltered and unsheltered homelessness in the U.S. The AHAR 2021: Part 1 report provided a single-night estimate of people experiencing homelessness in sheltered and unsheltered settings at the state, local, and national levels (see Memo, 2/14/22). AHAR Part 2 provides a national estimate of people who utilized shelter programs at some point between October 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021. The new report estimates that approximately 1,214,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness during this period, a 17% drop from 2019. HUD attributes the decrease in part to safety net enhancements and protections implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AHAR Part 2 provides estimates of the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness at any point over the course of one year. To estimate homelessness, HUD used several data sources: Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) data, Housing Inventory Count (HIC) data, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data. HMIS data contain information on people who used emergency shelters, safe havens, transitional housing, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing at any point during a one-year reporting period. HIC data, compiled by Continuums of Care (CoCs), represent the number of beds and units available for people experiencing homelessness on a single night. The report also uses ACS data to provide a profile of the total U.S. population and the number of households living in poverty.

The AHAR 2021 Part 2 provides the first full year of data on homelessness since the declaration of the national COVID-19 emergency. In addition to finding that 1.2 million people experienced sheltered homelessness between October 2020 and September 2021, the report finds that people in adult-only households accounted for 67% of all people experiencing homelessness, and 31% were people in families with children. Sheltered homelessness overall decreased by nearly 17% from 2019. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people in family households experiencing sheltered homelessness decreased by 25%, and the number of people in adult-only households experiencing sheltered homelessness dropped 13%. Between 2019 and 2021, the rate of sheltered homelessness among unaccompanied youth decreased by 28,500 people or 24%.

HUD’s report also estimates sheltered homelessness rates for several demographic groups, including veterans, households experiencing chronic homelessness, older adults, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) households:

  • Between 2019 and 2021, the number of veterans experiencing sheltered homelessness dropped by 18%. This represents a continuation of the decline in veteran homelessness that predated the pandemic. The Housing First model – which is used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in its two largest homelessness programs – has been instrumental in reducing veteran homelessness by more than 55% over the past decade (see Memo, 7/10). In 2021, 72% of veterans experiencing sheltered homelessness had a disability.
  • One in every four adults experiencing homelessness had a chronic pattern of homelessness in 2021 compared with 16% in 2019. Approximately 230,000 people in adult-only households experienced chronic homelessness in 2021. This was one of the few groups that experienced a rise in homelessness between 2019 and 2021, with homelessness increasing by 33%.
  • Nearly 10,000 more people aged 65 and older experienced sheltered homelessness in 2021 than in 2019. The number of elderly people experiencing chronic homelessness increased by 73% over the same two-year period.
  • BIPOC individuals continue to be overrepresented among people experiencing sheltered homelessness. While Black or African Americans represent only 13% of the overall U.S. population, they represent 39% of people experiencing sheltered homelessness. Additionally, Indigenous populations in poverty have considerably higher shares of people using shelter programs at some point during the year than other populations. About 12% of Native American households in poverty experienced sheltered homelessness during 2021.

In the report, HUD highlights that the impact of pandemic resources combined with protections aimed at reducing housing instability and loss of income are reflected in the data. Compared to 2019, nearly 20% fewer households accessing shelter were doing so for the first time. Inflow into the system decreased for both adult-only households and families with children. Pandemic resources – including eviction moratoriums and other critical homelessness prevention resources, like emergency rental assistance – likely helped reduce the flow of families into shelters. Yet programs working to house people already experiencing homelessness faced barriers to doing so given the severe shortage of affordable and available homes and limited housing resources.

“Perhaps the most important takeaway from the data in this report is the inextricable relationship between homelessness and housing instability more broadly,” writes HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge. “Data in this report illustrates how the safety net enhancements and housing loss protections made possible by federal executive action and the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan all helped prevent a spike in homelessness even while millions of Americans faced the prospect of housing loss due to income losses and rising rents. We submit this report to Congress at a time when many of these pandemic-era protections and programs have either expired or are winding down, but the number of people who are experiencing housing instability is greater than ever. I challenge you to read this report and consider how 2021 was an extraordinary year that may provide us with lessons in years to come about what it will truly take to prevent and end homelessness in America.”

Read the 2021 AHAR Part 2 at: